Friday, January 11, 2008

A friend writes. . . .

You know, I never really sat down and wrote a full-on endorsement of my preferred presidential candidate, John Edwards. OK, that’s not exactly true—I sat down to write one many times, but each time, I got bogged down with either too much table-setting about the Bush years, or too much wonkery about the Edwards plan, or too much hair-splitting about the large amount that I do like about John, and the small amount that I don’t. The months went by, and then I got wrapped up in the minutia of the race, and then got wrapped up in the campaign itself, and finally just got so frustrated with the establishment media’s lousy treatment of Edwards and the issues he cares about that I thought, “What’s the point?”

So, now probably seems like an odd time to lay out my case for an Edwards candidacy, what with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary already in the rear-view mirror, and the official narrative having even further marginalized the campaign and the candidate I support. Even I will admit that it will take a monumental effort to overcome the (largely manufactured) momentum of the other two big fish in this race.

That’s right, it’s a fish race, not a horserace. So throw out your racing form and put on your mask and wetsuit, as we dive into a tributary of my psyche and examine a tiny bit of my. . . oh, you know what, this is the worst metaphor I think I’ve ever tried to construct—so let’s move on. . . .

So, you’re still here. Good. On the evening of the New Hampshire primaries, I got an e-mail from a friend out west that read like this:

I'm leaning towards Obama but had been supporting Edwards. Please let me know your thoughts on him. The one thing I noted is that in a poll of all the candidates on a variety of issues that he is against capital punishment (not Edwards or, obviously, Hillary). I know this isn't that crucial for a president, but I'm so tired of every Democrat having to support a sick, barbaric institution jettisoned by the rest of the "civilized" world.

Also, didn't Edwards run much more conservative in 2004. I.E. is he pulling a reverse-Romney?

I’m with my friend on the death penalty, but, as he admits, it’s not the most important issue for a federal leader (though I would welcome a loud, presidential condemnation of the death penalty). The death penalty is one of a handful of issues on which I probably differ with John Edwards, but there are so many issues—big, systemic issues—on which I think that Edwards has the best positions in the race. Yesterday, when I replied to my friend, I mentioned but a few of them.

Here’s what I wrote (with few tiny edits for the sake of clarity). It’s rough, it’s spur of the moment and top-of-mind, but it is from the heart. When I finished, I thought, well, you know, why not put it out there—it’s at least half as good as some of the endorsements I’ve read in the papers, even if it is a little rough and wonky. And, anyway, I want to be on record: I have for quite some time endorsed, and still even now—in fact, even more so now—endorse John Edwards for president. Make of it what you will:

Wow, I can't believe that rightwing attack line has legs in the thinking world. . . that's disturbing.

No, JRE is not pulling a Romney. I didn't support Edwards in '04 because he voted “aye” on the AUMF; in 2005, he apologized for that vote and called for withdrawal and a renewed diplomatic effort in the region—and he did this in an OpEd published in the Washington Post. I don’t like that he voted for the war in 2002, but I respect and appreciate that he had the courage to admit that he actually learned something from his mistake. Imagine: a president that learns. Wow.

As for his economic populism, it has always been there. He has refined some of his ideas and strengthened some of his rhetoric after four more years of Bushenomics, but he is essentially the very same populist he was back in ’04. You’ll remember that the theme then was “The Two Americas”—well, now, it’s “Building One America.” It’s almost disappointingly unimaginative in its sameness; not a reverse at all.

You can check out Edwards’s entire platform in an 80-page book that he put out. You can download a PDF from his website. It’s called “Plan to Build One America.” I’ve read the whole thing—do I agree with every page? No, of course not. I would say that I buy into about 75% of it. (Neither HRC or BHO have anything this detailed to compare and contrast, by the way.)

Yeah, there’s the mostly meaningless “tough on crime” positions—and you are right to be tired of those—and there is also some serious fence-sitting when it comes to gun control (which really annoys me). . . and there are other things that are a bit heavy on the ideological gymnastics, but, you know, it’s the price of running a national campaign in a country with a cash-strapped education system and an electronic media controlled by only four companies.

But on some really big issues, Edwards is way out in front of Obama and Clinton. He was first out of the box with a plan for truly universal healthcare, and his plan is much better than the one that BHO came out with five months later (HRC was third to the table, and her plan is almost an exact copy of the Edwards plan). No, it’s not single payer—which I would prefer—but JRE actually says that his plan is a step toward single payer; the other two haven’t and wouldn’t say that.

(I guess we should say that for the sake of argument, Dennis Kucinich is for single payer, and DK is the bestest and leftest on a lot of my issues, but DK won’t be elected president, and I’m not actually sure that I would want him to be, despite what he stands for—but that’s another conversation.)

How about Iraq? Edwards will instantly withdraw 40 – 50,000 troops, and will have all combat troops out within ten months. He will end combat operations. He has sworn there will be no permanent bases. He has called for the big US private corporations to get out, to be replaced with regional concerns. He wants no private paramilitary forces there operating outside the law. He advocates a broad diplomatic push, which includes talking to the Syrians and Iranians, as well as other regional powers, the EU, the Russians, and, importantly, the Chinese. It’s actually a complex plan—imagine that!

In fact, many of JRE’s proposals actually require more than a nice one-liner—which is mighty refreshing, even if it is not the best of strategies for the soundbite-driven nature of our news coverage.

Like immigration—which is really an issue manufactured by the Republicans and their press surrogates, but it’s out there, so you gotta have an answer—John’s answer says a) sure, secure our borders, but a fence is “silly” (his word), b) the permanent guest-worker program is a bad idea, c) you have to have a path to citizenship, and d) you can’t begin to talk about stopping illegal immigration without talking about world trade and global economics. Edwards wants to abandon NAFTA and CAFTA, wants to spend more money to aid emerging economies, and wants to set baseline job safety and environmental standards for our trading partners.

Edwards also wants the cost of lost US jobs figured into the equations when we evaluate trade deals.

Edwards is the only frontrunner that has said unequivocally that we will build no new nuclear power plants, ever, and wants to phase out federal subsidies for nuclear power. He also opposes building coal-fired plants until there is a truly effective carbon-sequestration technology. He is also against liquid coal.

Obama, by contrast, comes from the state with the largest number of nuclear power plants, and Illinois is one of the country’s leading coal producers. Right before the Iowa caucuses, BHO was asked directly about his position on nuclear power and liquid coal. He gave the most namby-pamby non-answer, tried to talk the question to death, but eventually left everyone with the answer that he would not rule out either fuel source as “part of the mix.”

Social security? Edwards advocates raising the cap on eligible income and has ruled out privatization schemes. Obama has a complicated donut approach to eligible income that seems to me to be a bit of a shell game. He has also signaled that he is open to a private investment option—which you and I know would destroy the system—as well as the Republican privatization scheme.

Clinton also has not ruled out privatization.

On letting the Bush tax cuts expire: Edwards wants to return to the higher rate on incomes over $200,000. The other two have said they would set the bar at $250,000.

I could go on and on. . . if you have a specific question, just ask.

You know that I have longstanding problems with HRC and her triangulating ways, but she has moved to the left in the last week to the point where she is almost parroting JRE’s speeches word for word. Do I trust her to lead from that new, more left-leaning place—no, not in the least—but I find it interesting that she chose to shoot for the Democratic base to shore up her support.

Obama, on the other hand, has shown a disturbing proclivity to adopt Republican frames when he seeks to criticize his opponents. On social security, on healthcare, on torts (he has openly attacked trial lawyers). His politics of hope, when push comes to shove, looks a lot like the cynical politics of “centrist caution and status quo bias” (to borrow a phrase from Ezra Klein).

Indeed, Obama has disappointed me a bunch in this campaign. He is tentative, always second to the table on proposals (if he comes to the table at all), and often extremely incremental. John Edwards has gone after BHO on this, and I think it’s a fair attack, even if it’s really just about style. You can’t nice the Republicans and their corporate allies to death. These guys don’t take “no” for an answer.

Edwards is a hard-bargaining lawyer by trade, and he knows that you don’t walk into a negotiation saying, “we want $150 million, but we’ll settle for ten.” Or some such—you get my drift.

You have to stake out a position in this race—and “I’m going to convene a meeting” is not a position when it comes to the big economic problems we face as a country.

Indeed, one of the things I care most about is how the presidential candidate will affect the other races on the ballot. Will he or she lead from out in front, energize voters, pull the dialogue leftward? Will the prez nominee expend political capital to campaign for other Democrats so that we can have a working majority in both houses of Congress? This stuff, to me, is as important as the name of the presidential nominee.

I will also point out that in a head-to-head race with any of the leading Republicans, Edwards, and only Edwards, beats all of them by margins bigger than the poll’s MOE.

Now, I know that the first two states have made it a hard road for Edwards—but it is not an impossible road (though worse than the vote counts is the media blackout on his campaign—it is so infuriating). Even if Edwards is not the frontrunner, he continues to pull this campaign to the progressive left. So, I would still urge you to stick with Edwards.

That’s my SHORT answer on the matter.

I don’t know if I mentioned to you that I was up in New Hampshire volunteering for Edwards, so I have had a lot of time to think and a lot of experience now explaining the differences. It’s a good exercise; makes you think about why you really like a guy. I like the Edwards campaign because it is about concrete policies to help working people. I probably like him more now than I did two months ago. Unfortunately, because of my in the weeds (or is it “reeds?”) experience, I like Obama a lot less.

My name is [guy2k], and I approve this message.

There you have it. Not my most eloquent post, but it puts some stuff on the table. Did I hit the right notes? Did I make any factual errors? Please let me know (kindly, please—you catch more flied with honey, after all) in a comment. I’m always up for a discussion; not so much for a pie fight.

. . . .

Do not adjust your set: This post is indeed in orange in recognition of the sixth anniversary of the day men and boys were first shipped off to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Since then, over 700 prisoners have been detained, abused, and deprived of some of our most deeply held and basic rights. In six years, not a single “terrorist” held at Guantanamo has been convicted, in fact, not a single trial—if you can call the star chamber process established by the Bush administration a “trial”—not a single trial has been completed. Hundreds are still being held—with no recourse, no habeas rights, and no way to disprove any of the charges against them. In fact, many are not even told what those charges are. In the words of the ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson, “After six years of holding these individuals without charge, Guantanamo Bay can be viewed as nothing short of an American dungeon.”

Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would close the detention facility and restore due process rights to those being held at Guantanamo. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced S. 1469, the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility Closure Act of 2007. The bill requires the president to close the facility within 120 days of enactment - during which time detainees would be charged and sent to either the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, KS, or transferred to another country that will not torture or abuse them.

"Senator Harkin worked diligently to craft legislation that properly shuts down Guantanamo Bay and ends the indefinite detention of those being held. This is a major step in restoring the American image as a beacon of freedom in the world," said Christopher Anders, legislative counsel for the ACLU. "Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama have all spoken forcefully about shutting down the detention facility during their presidential campaigns but none have yet signed on to Senator Harkin’s legislation. Talk on the campaign trail comes easy, but signing on to the legislation would be a real commitment to shutting Guantanamo Bay."

Please use this unfortunate anniversary as an opportunity to call your senators and ask them to support Senator Harkin’s bill, S.1469. The Capitol Switchboard number is (202) 224-3121, or you can find more information about contacting your senators at

Thank you.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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